You have no doubt read more than your fair share of reviews for Gears of War. In fact I am willing to bet that most of you have already went out and picked up your copy of the game long before I sat down to write this. The big question on everyone’s mind though is will this game finally give Xbox 360 owners a reason to wave their consoles in the face of “those other guys” and finally be able to say we have a game that is truly worth owning this console for. The simple answer to this my friend is yes; Gears of War is really that good.
The biggest draw to Epic’s newest masterpiece is obviously the visuals. Gears looks better than every other game you have ever seen, and yes that includes every single one of the PS3 launch titles. The levels are gorgeous and sport some incredibly detailed architecture that simply must be experienced in fully HD glory. Now don’t get me wrong, Gears still looks amazing on a standard setup, but once you get to see the entire picture in every detail you really begin to appreciate all the subtle details that the developers have thrown into this game.
Thankfully the devs have paced the game in a way that allows you to enjoy many of these environments; however some of them will easily be overlooked because of the frantic action onscreen. You will also notice this amazing detail extended onto the player models themselves with realistic scars and facial features that border on the line between CGI and reality. Yes this game does look as good as screenshots suggest and even better once put into motion.
We all know that simply having outstanding visuals will not make a game though and this is where Gears really shows what it is made of. For those out of the loop GoW is not your typical shooter. The standard practice of run n’ gun will net you only a quick and painless death, instead Gears takes a more methodical approach which has earned it the status of stop n’ pop. This is all focused around the cover system in the game, which at first may seem daunting, but with it’s simplistic controls and ease of use it quickly becomes a tactic that will keep you alive both offline and on Xbox Live.
The cover system in GoW is all handled by the A button; pressing it while holding a direction will cause your character to assume cover behind the closest object. Want to leap over said object, simply press forward and A again to climb over. You can also perform other moves such as the SWAT turn across doorways by tapping the A button and the corresponding direction. While it may sound simple, once you learn all the small nuances of the system you can perform some truly impressive looking moves while remaining out the way of enemy fire.
The cover system is but one small piece in the overall puzzle that makes this game so great. Learning to use this system will heighten your chances of survival, but the enemy AI can also use the environments to evade your fire and they will even perform squad maneuvers such as flanking and retreating to a safer location to take you out. When playing through the game alone you will be presented with up to three AI controlled squad mates that will test your patience more often than not, especially on Hardcore and Insane difficulties. This is where Gears can really frustrate some players. Your AI team mates will walk blindly into enemy fire, fail to use cover, and simply do everything in their power to make sure you have to rescue them from certain death. Most of my single-player encounters resulted in letting Dom scream and cry for help while I eliminated the baddies myself.
This is easily remedied with Gears’ biggest and best feature; co-op gameplay. While the idea of playing with your friends is nothing new the way Gears handles this mechanic is one of the reasons the game is so much fun to play. Grabbing a buddy for an online session and tearing through hordes of Locusts is some of the most fun you will have with a game this year. Planning strategies and working as a team takes the game experience to a whole new level and increases the game life ten fold. I can honestly say that the addition of this mode has caused me to want to play through the game on all difficulties with a friend just for the experience alone, and that rarely ever happens to me with a shooter.
Through your journeys alone or with a partner you will encounter some of the coolest weapons ever found in a game of this type. From the standard assault rifle complete with a chainsaw on the end for up-close ass kicking to the Hammer Of Dawn, a weapon that uses satellite targeting to drop a massive explosion on whatever area you lace with the gun, Gears delivers in the hardware department. To this day there is nothing more satisfying than chain sawing an enemy at close range and watching the lovely gibs and red glory fly all over the screen; it’s simply one of the most rewarding experiences in a game ever.
Epic has also created a mini-game within the reloading system called active reload. Think of it as a swing meter in a golf game. Tap the reload button once to begin the action, tap it again on the sweet spot and your character will reload much faster and even get a damage boost on the ammo. Miss the sweet spot and your gun gets jammed and you have to wait on the reload which is usually accompanied by a classic line from your protagonist. At first it sounds gimmicky, but once you get it down you will be snapping reloads perfectly without even looking at the bar for reference.
The main story of the game can be rushed through on Casual difficulty in a little less than eight hours, which is fine if you simply want to see a game to the end. But once you crank the difficulty up the game takes on a whole new dimension, which is really the meat of the single-player campaign. Hardcore is definitely a challenge, but Insane is just well, insane. Enemies will flank you and be much more aggressive at attacking you when you are pinned down. Some Locusts will even wear protective helmets to prevent you from getting headshots. Needless to say Insane is a difficulty you want a co-op partner on because the sub-standard AI of your squad simply won’t cut it in this mode.
While all of this is more than enough reason to own GoW, there is also an adversarial online mode for up to eight players. Wait a second now; I know what you are thinking. Eight players seems a bit small for an online shooter, well in most cases it would be, but with Gears methodical gameplay this setup works better than almost every other shooter I have played to date. There are three modes you can play online with ten maps to choose from. The main mode is called Warzone and it is your basic four on four deathmatch.
The second two modes are simply variations of Warzone with different objectives. In Execution you have to finish off opposing enemies be performing an up-close kill such as a curb stomp (yes this is referring to the disturbing scene in American History X) or plowing them down with a chainsaw. You still take down enemies like normal, but once they are incapacitated you have about 30 seconds to move in and finish them off before they are right back into the action. The final mode is called Assassination and it consists of killing off the designated team leader for either side first. While these modes are all fun and worth the price of admission alone we would have loved to have seen some objective based game such as capture the flag, of course that is what downloadable content is for right?
In the end Gears of War is everything we could have hoped for and so much more. The single-player campaign is full of lots of “wow” moments that will have you talking about them for days and the option for co-op throughout the entire game is a definite plus. I can see myself playing this game for a very very long time right next to classics such as Halo 2. Epic has given Xbox 360 owners a reason to cheer and with the possibilities of future content downloads and plenty of Locusts to frag online gamers should be happy to own Microsoft’s console this holiday season. More than worth the wait and it definitely lived up to the hype; highly recommended for anyone who enjoys great games.